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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Respect's Beginnings - Please and Thank You

"A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding." - Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf

Observing children and adults in conversation, I notice how often eye contact is made, how often the words 'please' and 'thank you' are used, and how often kindly words shape and display how they respect one another.  At the earliest of ages, children can begin the habit of using 'please' and 'thank you' to demonstrate respect, an essential virtue for any relationship - especially those within a family.

For a child to develop this simple way of showing respect, the parents need to model it.  By using these words from parent to parent and from parent to child, we create a normal pattern of respect for all.  Now, interestingly, many of us miss our opportunities to use these words.  Humbling oneself by asking 'please' and showing gratitude for the smallest of things may not be in our own normal pattern of behavior.  Family members may take each other's actions for granted and conversations may be stripped of these foundational words.

Begin, if you don't already, recognizing how often you use these words with your spouse or loved one.  Use them with your children and kindly encourage them to use them with you.  If your child asks for something without ending or beginning with 'please', then, with a kind tone, ask, "and...."  Give them opportunities without reminding them.  Choose when you remind them wisely.  When they are quite young, a toddler, it can be more often.  As they get older, less often.  

Never respond to a child that demands or orders something from you.  You'll know when their tone is inappropriate or not respectful.  Of course, with children they need to learn that the tone is inappropriate, so this is your moment to kindly teach them.  But how might you teach them?  Let's consider these words from Abdu'l-Baha...

"Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If some one commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others. Refrain from reprimanding them, and if you wish to give admonition or advice, let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the bearer. Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts." - The Promulgation of Universal Peace

How does this apply to your own child?  I do not think that this means we should use the teachable moment and make light of it and smile.  Perhaps, we merely shouldn't make it heavy, as if the world crashed down on his/her shoulders.  Step-by-step, 'please'-by-'thank you' - respect for family, respect for others, and respect for self begins.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Equality and Justice

Recently, I had a conversation about the funding of education in the US.  In the US there is a great diversity of schools, in just about any category one can think of - including quality.  The average private school is not better than the average public school either - so diversity is within each type of school as well (here's an article about math scores in Private vs. Public schools).  Funding disparities among schools in the US come from many sources, but typically if you go to a 'rich' neighborhood you will find a well funded school and if you go to a 'poor' neighborhood you will find a school in disrepair and/or lacking materials.  In a country that has "the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per captia GDP of US$46,000", we don't fund education as much as others.  In a 2003 report done by the OCLC (an online librarian cooperative that has an immense data set available to them :-), the US "ranked tenth in education spending as a percent of GDP at 4.8 percent" in 2001.  Saudi Arabia, Norway, Malaysia, France and South Africa were the top five countries - all spending more than 5 percent of GDP.
Of course, based on percentage that may not seem too bad; however, per capita spending on education for the US was US$1,780 (a ranking of second) and Norway was number one at US$2,850.

Another factor to consider about US school funding, is the US system itself - or lack thereof.  There is no coordinated national school system in the US.  We have 50 state systems and within those there are many more school district systems.  If a child leaves one school to go to another, then there is no guarantee that she will have the same subject classes or be needing remedial lessons or be far ahead of her new classmates.  This diversity can be a strength; however, we tend not to take advantage of learning from what works and what doesn't within this mixed experiment.  Do you think there may be some waste of funds through redundancy?

In 1996, a set of National Science Education Standards were created by the National Academy of Sciences.  It was, and is, a good framework for a science curriculum.  Take a look at them and especially read how they frame the pedagogy for science - inquiry and process have great importance.  They were not written to be a prescriptive, day-by-day lesson plan.  Soon after the NSES were created, states started making their own standards (or altering what they already had) to sometimes reflect the NSES, sometimes expand on the NSES, and/or deviate greatly from the NSES.  How much did it cost to create those state standards?  We still have 50 states with separate science standards and we even have many school districts with district specific standards!

Regardless of the exact amount we spend towards students learning, we do a poor job of distributing the funding we put towards education in a just manner.  I use the word 'just' and not 'equal' on purpose.  A just educational system would lend to providing every student an opportunity to explore and empower themselves according to his/her effort and strengths.  I do not envision a system that is the same for every child, where on day 56 of kindergarten each learns letter 'R', etc.  Each child, as noted in an earlier posting, has gems within and our job is to help them recognize those gems, polish them, and serve humanity.

From the often quoted scripture from Baha'u'llah's Hidden Words..."O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.  Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes."

Now, if we consider the education of all children, worldwide, then we have much to reflect on in terms of justice.  Do we consider a nation spending US$5 per capita on education (Uganda) reasonable?  Is the spending of 1.8% of GDP (2000-2002) by Pakistan justice?  How many gems are going unfound and not being brought to the surface in a resplendent light?  Can our future afford such lack of investment?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Is whining really 'normal' for a 5 year old?

I was visiting a local farmer's market and took in the following scene...

A mother was shopping for some dresses for her two girls (both approximately 5 years
old) and their grandmother was in attendance as well. One of the girls really liked a particular
dress due to its color.  Her mother ignored her interest because it was clearly a large dress labelled
8 on the tag (for an eight year old).  The mother moved to another rack of dresses, while the daughter insisted on getting the mother's attention.  First she told her mother. "Mommy, I want this dress."
The mother ignored her, while the grandmother tried to point out other dresses (without explaining that the dress she wanted wouldn't fit her).  The child increased the drama by whining, "But I want this dress!" and making noises that showed her distress.  After about three minutes of, "Ahhhh, ohhhh..." from the child, the mother came around and frustrated by the whining told her to, "Stop it!" and proceeded to bring the child over to the dresses that would fit her.  Again, none of the adults explained to the child that the dress she wanted was too large.

I suppose that, to an adult, it was obvious that it was too large or that it was trivial to take the minute or two to explain that the dress wouldn't fit.  But, in my mind, neither of these are acceptable.  The child wasn't respected at all.  In fact, the adults in the situation seemed to rather ignore an opportunity to talk with the child and preferred to distract, much like one might with a younger child, or have a confrontation.

In less time than it took to have a dramatic conclusion (and wasted emotions), the adults could have said, "That's a beautiful dress.  What do you like about it?"  Then they could have taken it off of the rack and showed her that it wouldn't fit (and empathizing with the child's disappointment, somewhat).  Then stating, "Let's see if we can find another dress that has ______, but in your size."  That dialogue could have happened prior to the whining - if the adults were observant and sensitive to the presence of another human being (though smaller in stature).

What to do if the adult was too late and the child immediately began to whine?  Address the behavior separate from the child and ask, "Instead of whining, what words can you use to get my attention that are kind?"  By the way, when you ask this question (and many other ones), ask it from the child's eye level in a comforting way (as opposed from on high and with a voice of condescension).

To answer the question in the title.  I think whining is normal when being ignored or not having developed an alternative that works.  It is our task, as adults (and sometimes we whine as well), to recognize that whining isn't who the child is and definitely isn't acceptable as a regular form of communication.  Will even the best of children whine from time to time, of course, but the less we consider it as normal (and if we positively promote more successful alternatives for everyone involved) the less it will happen.  One more thing - if your child is tired (missed a nap, didn't sleep well the night before), just like any adult who hasn't slept well, be prepared for 'odd' behavior such as whining and crying at a moment's notice.

"The instruction of these children is even as the work of a loving gardener who tendeth his young plants in the flowering fields of the All-Glorious." - Abdu'l-Baha

Feel free to share your stories...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Knowledge and Social Change

It is during the holiday of Ridvan and the weeks that follow that brings a certain reflection on the days, weeks, and year ahead.  We have a Baha'i New Year and other holidays as well for similar reflection, but with Ridvan a message from the UHJ is sent around the world.  It is an excerpt from that message that I bring to you today to contemplate the needs and requirements for education today.  As you read it, I ask you to consider if today's schools and school systems are prepared to provide an appropriate environment (one of many that impact an individual's growth and development) for improving the conditions of today's world.

"Access to knowledge is the right of every human being, and participation in its generation, application and diffusion a responsibility that all must shoulder in the great enterprise of building a prosperous world civilization - each individual according to his or her talents and abilities.  Justice demands universal participation.  Thus, while social action may involve the provision of goods and services in some form, its primary concern must be to build capacity within a given population to participate in creating a better world.  Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.  The scope and complexity of social action must be commensurate with the human resources available in a village or neighborhood to carry it forward.  Efforts best begin, then, on a modest scale and grow organically as capacity within the population develops.  Capacity rises to new levels, of course, as the protagonists of social change learn to apply with increasing effectiveness elements of Baha'u'llah's Revelation, together with the contents and methods of science, to their social reality.  This reality they must strive to read in a manner consistent with His teachings - seeing in their fellow human beings gems of inestimable value and recognizing the effects of the dual process of integration and disintegration on both hearts and minds, as well as on social structures."

When reading through this myself, I contemplate the educational framework that is typically utilized (grade system - K-12 or similar designations for primary and secondary levels) and I ask, "Are we building a capacity for social change with the students?" "Are the children being prepared to be the adults necessary for transforming this world for the better?"  Or, are we preparing them for a world that has already past with subtle substitutions?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Child's Patience and the Marshmallow

In a classic experiment, researchers found a strong correlation between a child's ability to delay gratification and his/her success in life (as defined in many ways).  In the most loving manner, patience teaches one more than the ability be quiet while waiting.  Take a look at the following two videos...

"O son of man! For everything there is a sign. The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trials." (Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic 48)

"It behoveth whosoever hath set his face towards the Most Sublime Horizon to cleave tenaciously unto the cord of patience, and to put his reliance in God, the Help in Peril, the Unconstrained." (Baha'u'llah)

and, last but not least, this one reminds me of the children in the video most (though a marshmallow test is not so dire)...

"...God will add unto the recompense with which He shall reward Us, for having sustained with persevering patience the tribulations We have suffered. He, verily, shall increase the reward of them that endure with patience." (Baha'u'llah)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Raising Baha'is (without brattiness)...

This posting is to provide you with some of the many Baha'i writings that can apply to raising children in line with Baha'i principles.  One caveat, as an individual I can only provide my interpretation and emphasis concerning these writings.  You may take something more or less from each quote concerning raising children - so, you have been warned. :-)

One source of useful advice comes from a book titled, "Mothers, Fathers and Children" by A. Furutan.  He uses several Baha'i quotes to frame his advice and does a good job using simple language and clear logic to justify it.  For those of you not familiar with him, you can check out this link --- A. Furutan.  He begins his book with a chapter titled, "Six Educational Counsels".

To open this chapter he quotes Abdu'l-Baha, "According to the teachings of Baha'u'llah, the family being a human unit must be educated according to the rules of sanctity.  All the virtues must be taught the family."

The first is 'The Necessity of Agreement between Parents' and he quotes Baha'u'llah, "Ye were created to show love to one another and not perversity and rancor."  This provides consistency, let alone relative peace.

The second is 'The Childhood Years and the Force of Habit' and he quotes Abdu'l-Baha, "It is extremely difficult to teach the individual and refine his character once puberty is passed. By then, as experience hath shown, even if every effort be exerted to modify some tendency of his, it all availeth nothing. He may, perhaps, improve somewhat today; but let a few days pass and he forgetteth, and turneth backward to his habitual condition and accustomed ways. Therefore it is in early childhood that a firm foundation must be laid. While the branch is green and tender it can easily be made straight."  This is one reason why we have started what we call a Virtues Playgroup with children ages 4-6.  It is wonderful to have children who understand (in their own way) what perseverance and unity mean in word and deed (among others).

The third is 'Parents' Words and Deeds are Children's Examples' and he quotes Baha'u'llah, "Take heed, O people, lest ye be of them that give good counsel to others but forget to follow it themselves." Children have a set of neurons (as do adults) that are highly active and remarkable.  They are called mirror neurons.  We have empathy and develop it (and other virtues) through mirroring other's actions.  Being respectful of a child's emotion by listening and encouraging them to verbalize, as opposed to ignoring and teaching them that tantrums are the best way to get attention, can be quite helpful at times.  This doesn't mean have a lengthy argument or engage in a discussion for all things, but adults tend to write off a child's emotion and miss an opportunity to teach the child that the emotion is reasonable and teach them how to utilize that emotion for the better.

The fourth is 'Self-Control' and he quotes Abdu'l-Baha, "The individual must be educated to such a high degree that he...would think it easier to be slashed with a sword or pierced with a spear than to utter calumny or be carried away by wrath." How many times as adults have we said something that we regret or, worse yet, don't recognize that we should regret it because it causes division and pain?  This counsel is strongly linked to the third one mentioned above.  In the end, of course, the virtue of forgiveness is our saving grace when self-control fails.

The fifth is 'Keeping Promises Made to Children' and he quotes Baha'u'llah, "Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquility and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it." What a lesson to be learned at such a young age and such rewards to be gained when applied as adults.

The sixth is 'The Effects of Deceit on Children' and he quotes Abdu'l-Baha, "Truthfulness is the foundation of all virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized." He relates a story where a mother took a son to a movie, while leaving the daughter at home. In order to not upset the daughter, the mother tells her falsely that she's taking the son to the dentist and hides the fact of taking him to the movies. Once returned home, the daughter pretends to be asleep in her room and the mother tells the father of the trip to the movies with her son. The daughter is, to say the least, disappointed.

With this brief overview, I hope that you can take away some new ideas (or at least quotes).  The rest of the book is quite good and I recommend that you take a look.  Looking forward to your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Raising Baha'i Brats...

Did the title get your attention?  Well, let me clear up something.  I don't think that Baha'is raise brats intentionally or that a particular faith group has complete ownership on raising brats or that brats are an inevitable consequence and fixed in their lifelong development to become adult brats. In fact, naming a child a 'brat' is a label that alters one's view and therefore may limit the adult's ability to recognize a moment for positive reinforcement of good behavior.

Also, I do not think that I have the answers to raising everyone's children.

With that written, I am shocked by how many people, in general (in or out of the Baha'i community), conduct either laissez-faire or dictatorial styles of parenting.  Both extremes result in a strange brew that leads to behaviors and understandings in a child that aren't quite useful for themselves or society.

A laissez-faire style leads to a child that does anything and everything, has little or no social graces, and finds disorder to be normal.  A dictatorial style leads a child to have limited personal growth in as far as setting boundaries for themselves and the natural inclination for the fire of creativity (among other things) is doused.

A child needs love, trust, and respect (much like anyone else).  However, a loving parent who allows the child to do nearly anything isn't providing a framework where the child will be safe.  Once a child is of a certain age (2-3), communicating in a loving manner what is and is not expected of them begins to build respect and trust in the relationship.  That communication comes from the parent, but it is also important for the parent to allow the child to share their emotions and thoughts, to a certain extent, such that they feel heard.  "I understand that you like jumping up and down on the couch because it is fun, but you can slip and hurt yourself. Here are two other things you can do (A &B), which do you you want to do?" A few things that parents may do that can be helpful are:

1. Label the behavior, not the child.
I have witnessed communications from a parent and a child that would be considered rude and unruly if said to another adult. Demeaning the child's soul is not the role of a parent, rather the role is to provide boundaries that allow for personal growth. A child is not always 'shy', always 'rude', or always anything - unless the parent reinforces it by name calling (including being called a 'brat').

2. Tightly connect (in time) consequences to behavior/words
If a child does something that is disrespectful, then at which moment do you attend to it?  As soon as humanly possible! Connect the action to discussion and the consequence, so that the message is clear.  I have heard of some experts recommending that one must provide children with all of the options possible and let them choose.  In this way, the child's inner being will develop as intended and without harm from parental influences. This is ridiculous when taken to an extreme.  Parental influence can be a good thing!

3. Listen to and try to understand the child
Some parents don't try to understand the source of the child's emotion or thoughts.  Granted, it is difficult at times to do this, but it will reap benefits.  Listening and being respectful to the child is modeling the behavior you expect from him/her.  How many adults are frustrated with each other due to simple misunderstanding?  Now, make one of those adults into a child whose vocabulary is much less and you'll end up with screaming and tantrums (even some adults continue to do this because they didn't learn how to recognize their emotion and use it wisely).

4. Be Consistent
Nothing damages a good framework of trust, respect, and love more than inconsistency. It isn't easy to always be consistent, but try to be consistent about the most fundamental things.  Certain behaviors are never to be tolerated and the consequence should be well known by both parent and child, and followed through.

Well, with those four to think about I add one more thing...

5. Balance
Choose your 'battles' wisely.  You alone need to identify what is significant and what is not.  Sometimes, just like adults, the child needs to share his/her feelings and not have a solution.  They need to be heard and understood.  Neither the laissez-faire or dictatorial parent will find balance, nor peace.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Failing Schools, Failing Teachers?

What to do when a school is by many standards failing?  Fire the teachers and start anew, so goes the story in a Rhode Island school (click HERE to read more).  The details of any similar story are difficult to get, since most reporting is slim at best.  I have heard from teachers that a school has its own history, its own reputation.  Some schools are known to be less academically successful and the culture of this knowledge is repeated again and again.  I have also read reports where students are put into two groups, one where they are told that they are gifted and another where they are told they are inferior.  In which group do you think they were more successful (no matter what their socioeconomic background)?

Factors that can alter a students chances of success, among several, are:
1. A teacher's subject content knowledge.  This knowledge must include a depth of knowledge that can allow for creative ways to connect subject content to other areas of interest.  They must know enough to be able to ask questions that lead to students piecing together knowledge into an overall understanding of reality.
2. A teacher's pedagogical content knowledge.  Knowing when and how to weave a tapestry of content and processes together for students is key to reaching all students of various interests and skill levels.
3. A teacher's expectations. Having high expectations for all students and the patience and leadership to empower students to have high expectations for themselves.

I am not claiming that the move to fire the teachers was right or wrong, there are too many questions I need answered to settle my mind.  The utmost importance of education, as supported by all in the community (teachers, parents, administrators, businesses, etc.), is given as a platitude more often than a sincere statement.  Politicians include it as a campaign slogan (always reinforcing the idea that schools are in need of drastic repair regardless of their status).  The general populace wants a good education for all, but the current system of funding typically tilts the support towards affluent communities.  There is even the idea that more funding for schools would be useless, since the system is claimed to be beyond repair and taxes in the US never make people spring into a joyful dance.  Of course, taxes for more jails might be considered and even wanted so as to be tough on crime.

No matter what the decisions we make to 'correct' a failing school, I'd hope that our individual and collective actions would align with the following sentiments...

"The education and training of children is among the most meritorious acts of humankind and draweth down the grace and favour of the All-Merciful, for education is the indispensable foundation of all human excellence and alloweth man to work his way to the heights of abiding glory. If a child be trained from his infancy, he will, through the loving care of the Holy Gardener, drink in the crystal waters of the spirit and of knowledge, like a young tree amid the rilling brooks. And certainly he will gather to himself the bright rays of the Sun of Truth, and through its light and heat will grow ever fresh and fair in the garden of life."

"Every child is potentially the light of the world--and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance. From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God's love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host."

We are not training children for employment.  We are not training them to be merely law-abiding citizens.  We are unleashing a potential for progressive change unmatched by all the generations before us.  At this momentous time, we choose to lower our expectations for education at a great price OR we choose to higher them for unimaginable glory.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Classroom Subject Matter

Take a look at your local school system or the closest school.  What subjects do they offer?  They most likely include a language class or two, arts (if you are lucky), history (most likely not recent and by far not recent world history), mathematics, and various sciences.  Where is the part of the curriculum that is not about subject matter, but about becoming a better human being?

It may be found in slogans or phrases in school literature, on walls, or in school district/school mission or vision statements.  Some are clear and concise, while others are not.  Here are four examples...(with the school names removed to protect the innocent)...

"We are committed to creating a culture of success by building the knowledge and skills to ensure college, career, and life readiness for every student."

"We Believe...
•     in public education.
•     everyone can learn and achieve.
•     each individual has intrinsic worth.
•     respect, honesty, self-discipline, and a sense
       of fair play are essential to the development
       of personal integrity.
•     in personal responsibility and accountability.
•     in striving to do one's best.
•     in the value of a supportive, nurturing family.
•     in the power of positive thinking.
•     in valuing and utilizing diversity, we can
       achieve common goals.
•     effective communication is essential.
•     a sense of humor contributes to a healthy, balanced way of life.
•     it is the responsibility of every individual
       to contribute to the betterment of a
       global society.
•     in the benefit of individual pursuits and the
       value of collaborative contributions.
•     successful change requires vision, personal
       action and a willingness to take risks.
•     no failure is fatal . . . no success is final. 
•     learning is an essential life-long process."

"It is our vision that all students can learn from a student-centered instructional program which provides a quality educational environment and promotes academic excellence, social responsibility, and emotional well being."

"The school's four strategic goals are to:
  1. Improve academic achievement of all students, particularly in math and science.
  2. Prepare students to pursue advanced degrees in math and science.
  3. Promote good personal health and healthy life styles.
  4. Increase awareness of careers in health and medical sciences."
These are common examples and I am not presenting them as either good or bad ones.  They have in them the hopes and dreams of individuals and groups whose fondest wish, I am sure, is a better education.  

I propose, however, that the fundamental basis of our individual, and collective, development is either missing or obscured by such statements. Our fundamental basis of development is virtues - "
`What is the purpose of our lives?' `Abdu'l-Bahá.--`To acquire virtues"

Do the students in your school or school district find that this is something important in school?  If not, then where is this a priority?  Some contend that the development of virtues is something to be done at home with family or with one's group of worship.  By doing so, we create two worlds - one where virtues are given high status and another where they are not.  A contradictory message, no?  

Do I propose that religion be taught in public schools? No. Virtues are the core of all religions and even non-religious ethics and morals.  We are attracted to them much like gravity pulls us to the ground.  Look at this list of 52 from The Virtues Project and consider which of these are worthy to develop.  Then imagine a classroom (no matter what the subject) where the teacher and students used these words in conversation, especially when they would recognize the virtue being put into action by someone in the classroom.  The effect would be to meet and exceed many of the school vision statements concerning how these children will have a positive impact on the world.

I leave you with this to contemplate...
"The virtues of humanity are many but science is the most noble of them all. The distinction which man enjoys above and beyond the station of the animal is due to this paramount virtue."
How many students of science consider the practice of it to be a virtue?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Outliers and A Boy Named Alex

Has anyone read Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers"?  He is the author of two other well-known books, "Blink" and "The Tipping Point".  I find his writing style simple and clear and always leaving me wanting to know more (in a good way).  In this posting, I want to share one part of it, a personal experience possibly related to it, and ask for your thoughts.

In a chapter titled, "The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2" Gladwell introduces the reader to a sociologist named Annette Lareau. She did a study of a group of third graders in which she followed 12 families ("both black and whites and children from both wealthy homes and poor homes"). After following the families at least 20 times, she concluded their were two parenting styles - 'concerted cultivation' by the middle-class parents and 'accomplishment of natural growth' by the poor parents.

'Concerted cultivation' "is an attempt to actively 'foster and assess a child's talents, opinions, and skills.' (Poor parents) see as their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own. Lareau stresses that one style isn't morally better than the other.  The poorer children were, to her mind, often better behaved, less whiny, more creative in making their own time, and had a well-developed sense of independence. But in practical terms, concerted cultivation has enormous advantages. The heavily scheduled middle-class child is exposed to a constantly shifting set of experiences.  She learns teamwork and how to cope in highly structured settings. She is taught how to interact comfortably with adults, and to speak up when she needs to." 

Gladwell then shares a story of a nine year old boy, Alex, who goes to the doctor's office and engages in a conversation with the doctor.  The boy does this based on his mother's encouragement and can "assert himself with people in positions of authority." 

"In doing so, he successfully shifts the balance of power away from the adults and toward himself....Alex is being treated with respect. He is seen as special and as a person worthy of adult attention and interest....Alex is not showing off during his checkup. He is behaving much as he does with his parents - he reasons, negotiates, and jokes with equal ease."

In my mind, Alex is demonstrating the virtue of assertiveness.  In fact, the earlier part of the chapter provides another story of someone who is intellectually gifted, but, at crucial times in his life, did not assert himself.  Gladwell could have titled this chapter 'Assertiveness and Its Consequences'.

This reminded me of my experience while visiting an elementary school in the US.  The school served a population that was generally poor and I was astounded by the rigidity of the rules, especially hallway rules.  For example, when leaving a classroom, students had to line up, single-file and, depending on which direction they were going, walk single-file along one side or the other of the hallway.  I recalled my own experience as a student between classes in the hallway as being controlled chaos.  Were the students in this elementary school learning about authority?  Were they learning about their relationship with authority?  I also asked myself, what were they learning about their own ability to self-discipline?

So, I leave you with this...did your parents use either of the two parenting styles mentioned above?  Lastly, how was your school environment structured - what did it teach you about authority and assertiveness?


Dear Long Lost Reader,
I am back. After one year and ten days, consider this my second go round at blogging.  I took a leave of absence, unbeknownst to all of you, during my year long work at UCSD.  I have since come back to my senses and established my focus back on developing my company Mining Gems and to go deeper in meditating on what is transformative and what isn't.  In my hopes to make regular postings, I am taking a lesson from my physical workout routine - start small and develop a pattern over time that engages me and fulfills long-term goals without being overwhelming.  So, it is with that sentiment that I begin anew.